The debate over higher education for American police officers began as early as 1829 when Robert Peele made reference to the need for a professionally trained police force. In the early 1900s, August Vollmer, the father of modern policing, proposed police have college degrees. The President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice supported Peele in 1967 stating higher education requirements will significantly improve the quality of policing. Soon after, in 1973, the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals requested a national minimum education level of at least a four-year college degree. Since that time, numerous agencies and organizations have debated the advantages and disadvantages of higher education for police officers.
Whether or not your or your significant other's job requires a degree for hiring or promotion, the benefits of advanced education are exponential. Not only does taking classes offer the chance to grow intellectually, taking classes you’re interested in can be fun. Colleges offer a variety of courses and different ways of delivery, including on-campus and distance courses. Many degrees can be gained completely on the internet. Unlike in the past, the quality of the colleges and the degrees has increased.
Many studies support higher education for police officers, encouraging the disciplines beyond what is actually taught. In Stoning the Keepers at the Gate, Lawrence N. Blum, Ph.D. describes several characteristics that formulate a good officer. A look at a few of these qualities along with how higher education supports these offers an incentive to take a few classes or get a degree.
Integrity and Responsibility
"Officers with integrity demonstrate a self-initiated willingness to be responsible in how they work and live," Blum states. Completing class work, especially when juggling work and a family, requires a huge amount of determination. Students need to keep track of assignments and take responsibility for the quality of their work. Avoiding plagiarism and doing original work also takes integrity.
"Responsibility... indicates a commitment to fulfill the obligations they take upon themselves," explains Blum. College is a big undertaking. It requires time commitments, and if a degree is the ultimate purpose, a focus on what needs to be completed when. By registering for a class, completing the requisite work and studying for tests, a person shows they can follow through with what they start. Even taking a few semesters off because of other obligations shows the ability to assess priorities and rearrange things when necessary.
First off, maturity is not the same as life experience. Some people show maturity at a very young age, while some are still vastly immature after their hair turns gray. Maturity, according to Blum, "refers to how a person thinks, how he or she uses judgment, and whether or not his or her decisions are based upon objective facts rather than internal emotional states or needs." He further suggests, "Mature officers will base their approach to the individual upon their accurate analysis of the circumstance they have encountered and the resources that are available. They will also be capable of and predisposed to postponing their need for personal gratification until the appropriate time and condition."
Along with learning analytical skills in college, students often complete work outside their comfort zone, such as public speaking or writing a report on an unfamiliar subject. Research-based courses expect students to be able to sort through material and judge objectively. Another aspect of this falls into the realm of broader experience. In college, students are exposed to a wide variety of people and ideas, many in conflict with their own experiences and values. Being able to participate in a group critique grants the opportunity to listen to the other person's arguments and evaluate the merit of the work objectively and not based on one’s own feelings about the person or the idea.